Voters Beware: The Dangers of the Oscar Ballot

Voters Beware: The Dangers of the

Attention, Oscar voters: Nomination balloting runs through Jan. 8, and you better be careful when making your choices. Yes, I’m sure you are always careful, but this year, it’s more important than usual.

If you really love a contender, you need to put it in the No. 1 slot. If you’re rooting for a film or individual that has been gathering awards, don’t conclude they’re shoo-ins: Front-runners need just as much support as underdogs.

Last year, Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow were absent from Oscar’s five director nominees. Maybe they didn’t get enough votes; maybe they were hurt by other factors, like mudslinging. But it’s also possible that many voters thought, “Eh, Affleck and Bigelow will get enough votes, they don’t need me.” We will never know if dark horses like Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) and Michael Haneke (“Amour”) received nominations because of overwhelming enthusiasm or an overwhelming misperception by members of the directors branch.

The order of your favorites is all-important because your second and third choices may not count. That’s always true, but especially in a year when there are no front-runners and every category is overcrowded. To get a best-picture nomination, a film needs a certain number of No. 1 votes. (You have to trust me on this. I could explain it to you, but it would take about 300 words and your head would hurt when I was finished.)

In a year when there is a front-runner like “Gone With the Wind,” it will get plenty of ballots putting it at No. 1. Once a film has passed the requisite number needed, the execs at PricewaterhouseCooper will look at the other ballots that had put “GWTW” at No. 1; since the film is already guaranteed a nomination, those ballots would be wasted, so the PWC folks will look at the No. 2 choices on that ballot.

But there is no “GWTW” this year. There are at least 15 films that are credible contenders in multiple categories. When the love is so widespread, voters need to weigh their choices carefully. So you may say “I loved three films equally. I can’t choose.” But don’t mistakenly believe that if you put your favorites in the top three slots, all will get attention. That No. 1 slot may be the only one that matters.

A final thought to scare all of you: The best picture race may be tighter than you realize. In the past two years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences offered the option of five to 10 best pic contenders, depending on how many films got enough points. In both years, the tally was nine. This year, people are assuming that there will be 10 because there are so many good films. But as the Gershwins said, it ain’t necessarily so.

PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants reviewed the ballots of Ye Olden Days of Oscar (i.e., 2008 and earlier) when there were only five best-pic contenders. They went back several years and concluded that if the option had been available of five-to-10 possibilities, no year would have seen more than nine films.

So this year’s race is even more distressing: 15 contenders for nine or (gasp!) eight slots. It’s a tough world, gang. So vote with your heart,  don’t vote strategically.

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  1. peter says:

    I bet 60-70% of the Oscar voters have no idea about these thing (and will never have). What I am saying is: This is just an another reason not to care about awards…

  2. Jane Stevens says:

    How about letting the viewing public vote for the Oscars? This way people like Ben A. cannot buy one.

    • Kevin Cleary says:

      That exists already.
      It’s called The People’s Choice awards.

    • Jay says:

      I’m sure he’s rich, but “buying” an Oscar would cost more than he could afford. There are many players who are much richer than he is. The Academy is divided into so many different fields that it would be all-but impossible to pay off every set designer, every editor, every musician and make-up artist, every cinematographer, even if they were willing to accept bribes. With more than 6.000 members spread across the globe and most of whom are not actors or directors, it is unlikely that any one player could buy a statute. It would be easier to buy a Golden Globe which has only 100 voting members. No one ever has, but it would be easier logistically.

    • Michael Anthony says:

      If he was buying them, he certainly would have bought one for best director. Its probably more prestigious to an individual than best picture.

  3. joestemme says:

    Here’s a real easy solution – the films and persons that get the most votes get nominated.

    The top 5 vote-getters get nominated in those categories with 5 nominees. Period.

    For Best Picture, you have a certain percentage cut-off. If, say, 9 films get 5% or more of the vote and a “10th” movie gets only 3%, you get 9 nominees. If that “10th” movie gets 5% as well, There are 10 nominees. Again. Period.

    The weighted ballot is garbage. It’s akin to the crappy Electoral Vote system where a loser can get to be President because 8 farmers and 1 cow in North Dakota count for more than entire COUNTIES in states like California, New York or Texas.

    • Michael Anthony says:

      And what happens if you get 13 films with 5%, or no film garners 5%? Or you get multiple ties in acting moms? Its certainly within the realm of possibility.

      Your electoral vote comparison is a bunch of BS. States should be weighted equally, regardless if population. Personally, this country would fall if Texas’ “good ole boy” political system had more power in national elections. We all be better off if they just seceded and let them destroy themselves!

      • joestemme says:

        There are very few ties. Even when there are only 5 nominees there have been but a handful of ties in all of Oscar history. Here we are talking about dozens and dozens of possible contenders. If there is an exact tie (which also theoretically could occur with the current weighted system), it wouldn’t be a world-ender to just have 6 nominees one year.

        As to the Electoral College. I’m not sure if are pro or anti? If all states are “weighted equally” that would make it far far far worse than the current system! Are you saying that Rhode Island should have as many electoral votes as Florida? My point is that you GET RID of the electoral college, so you get One Person, One Vote (and the preferential ballot to the point of this thread).

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